Sharing Torah Insights

Shabbat Duality: The Value of Inaction

Posted on י״ט באדר ה׳תש״ע (March 5, 2010) | in Ki Tisa, Shabbat | by

In this week’s Parsha, right after discussing the details of the construction of the Mishkan the Hashem instructs Moshe to tell the Jewish people about Shabbat. There it states (in full):

וְאַתָּה דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר,אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי, תִּשְׁמֹרוּ:  כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם–לָדַעַת, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת, כִּי קֹדֶשׁ הִוא, לָכֶם; מְחַלְלֶיהָ, מוֹת יוּמָת–כִּי כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בָהּ מְלָאכָה, וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִקֶּרֶב עַמֶּיהָ.שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, יֵעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן קֹדֶשׁ, לַיהוָה; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה מְלָאכָה בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, מוֹת יוּמָת. וְשָׁמְרוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת לְדֹרֹתָם, בְּרִית עוֹלָם. בֵּינִי, וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–אוֹת הִוא, לְעֹלָם:  כִּי-שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, שָׁבַת וַיִּנָּפַשׁ.

‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: However, you shall keep My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy unto you; every one that desecrates it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days work shall be done; but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work in the Sabbath day, shall surely be put to death.  The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.’

The Abravanel asks many questions on these verses, but I am going to focus on just a few. First, what is the significance of telling us about keeping Shabbat right after the discussion of the Mishkan? Weren’t we just told about Shabbat at Har Sinai a few weeks ago? Second, why does the Pasuk use the word שַׁבְּתֹתַי (my Shabbats) in plural? It could have just said “but keep the Shabbat”. Finally, why does the description of Shabbat use the word אוֹת (a sign) twice – first, it is a sign through which we can know that Hashem sanctifies the Jewish people and second, it is a sign that Hashem created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th.

To answer these questions, the Abravanel explains that there are two major aspects to Shabbat. First, there is the acceptance and appreciation of the fact that Hashem created the world. Shabbat comes as as a break from the busy week to serve as perpetual sign that there is a Creator who placed us here and gave us purpose in our weekly tasks. This aspect of Shabbat corresponds to the word “Zachor (remember)” which is recorded in the first recounting of the 10-commandments in the Torah. Through Zachor, we observe Shabbat in an active sense. By refraining from work we have an opportunity to spend time learning Torah, taking advantage of the extra Neshama we have on Shabbat to come closer to Hashem.

The second aspect of Shabbat, (as noted by the plural שַׁבְּתֹתַי) is the recognition that there is a World To Come. Chazal say that the Shabbat we experience is 1/60th of our ultimate Olam Habah, and note that the World To Come is a “Yom SheKulo Shabbat (a day which is entirely Shabbat).” Through this recognition, Shabbat serves as its second sign. By reminding us that that we have a place and a purpose on this world, Shabbat ensures that we keep focused on the fact that it is Hashem who makes our work successful in this world and gives us our due reward in the World To Come.

This second aspect of Shabbat is manifest through the word “Shamor (to guard)”, as recorded in the second recounting of the 10-commandments. In contrast to Zachor, Shamor is a passive observance of Shabbat. We keep Shabbat by not doing things. Through this observer we realize that just as there is value to action, there is sometimes also value to in-action. Just as we must work for 6 days (as it says שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, יֵעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה), so to0 we accomplish even more by showing that we refrain from work on the 7th day. Through this in-action we show how we recognize Hashem’s ultimate dominion and realize that all we accomplish is through Him.

This is why Shabbat is commanded again right after the instructions for the Mishkan. It is very easy to understand how the Jewish people might have thought that the holy task of building the Mishkan might supersede the observance of Shabbat. Isn’t it more important to have the Mishkan built as soon as possible to help bring Hashem’s presence into the world than to keep Shabbat? The answer is “No.” The most important thing is to realize that just as the world was created by Hashem, so to everything we accomplish, we accomplish through His hands.

Have a wonderful and rest-filled Shabbat!

Also, enjoy this video to get into the Shabbat mood.

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One Response to “Shabbat Duality: The Value of Inaction”

  1. Deb Fowler says:

    Thanks, Liron. My congregants at the Inn are sure to appreciate these thoughtful comments. D.


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